Many families face the dilemma as to whether to invite non-observant friends or relatives to a Yom Tov meal. On the one hand, the potential for positive spiritual impact is enormous, as outreach (Kiruv) professionals agree that seeing a joyous family experience a peak Torah event such as a Yom Tov meal has motivated many to increase their level of commitment to Torah observance. On the other hand, extending an invitation to a non-observant join a Yom Tov meal involves the guest driving to the meal by car (unless he or she is a neighbor).
This question is even thornier for those who have become religious and have had family gathering in their home for a Yom Tov meal every year. If one does not continue inviting his relatives due to concern for their driving, he risks alienating his extended family. Similarly, if one does not invite relatives to a Shabbat or Yom Tov Bar Mitzvah one risks the relative becoming very insulted and upset. The Poskim (Halachic authorities) of the twentieth century grappled with this quandary and have presented a variety of approaches. We shall present three approaches – that of Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Moshe Shterbuch and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and conclude with some practical suggestions.
Rav Moshe Feinstein
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe O.C. 1:99) was asked in 1953 by a Rav in Detroit as to whether it is permissible for him to encourage people to come to shul when he knows that those individuals live far from the synagogue and will drive to shul on Shabbat. Rav Moshe strongly rejects doing so. He argues that extending such an invitation constitutes a violation of the prohibition of Lifnei Iveir Lo Titein Michshol (Vayikra 19:14), placing a stumbling block before the blind. Chazal (Avodah Zarah 6b) understand this prohibition to include facilitating others (analogous to the blind, as they are blinded by their passions) to sin (the stumbling block). Extending the invitation to Shul facilitates their sinful behavior of driving on Shabbat, a serious violation of Torah law, as each time one presses the accelerator he violates the prohibition of burning on Shabbat (for an explanation why it is also forbidden to drive on Yom Tov, see Teshuvot Yechave Da’at 3:36).
Rav Moshe goes even further and asserts that by extending such an invitation not only violates Lifnei Iveir, but also constitutes violating a severe prohibition, namely Meisit, convincing someone to sin (Devarim 13:7-12), which in certain circumstances constitutes a capital crime! Rav Moshe proves that Meisit applies not only to the situation discussed in Devarim chapter 13 of influencing someone to worship Avodah Zarah (idolatry), from the Gemara (Sanhedrin 29a) that classifies the snake of BeReishit chapter three as a Meisit (the snake, of course, convinced Chavah to violate Hashem’s command not to eat from the tree of knowledge). Rav Moshe notes that even though convincing someone to violate a prohibition other than Avodah Zarah does not constitute a capital crime it nevertheless is a severe prohibition to the extent that the heavenly court will not muster a defense for such action on one’s Day of Judgment (just as Hashem did not suggest a defense for the snake of the Garden of Eden, as noted in the aforementioned Gemara).
Some have noted that this ruling of Rav Moshe appears to be inconsistent with a ruling (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe O.C. 4:79) in which he permits observant doctors to exchange shifts in the hospital with non-observant Jews. Rav Moshe reasons that since the non-observant would have in any event been violating Shabbat, better that they spend Shabbat in the hospital where they will work on Shabbat for the sake of saving lives than violating Shabbat outside the hospital (for further discussion see Gray Matter 2:6-7). It would seem that one could similarly argue that better that the non-observant spend Shabbat morning in Shul where they will not violate Shabbat rather than other venues where they would violate Shabbat the entire morning.
Rav Moshe Shternbuch
Rav Moshe Shternbuch includes in the first volume of his responsa entitled Teshuvot Vehanhagot a series of Teshuvot addressing Halachic challenges faced by newly observant Jews (Ba’alei Teshuvah). In one case he was asked by Baalei Teshuvah if they were permitted to invite their parents to Shabbat evening dinner even though they will drive home after the meal. Rav Shternbuch permits the invitation, especially since the child told his parents that he is upset with their driving on Shabbat.
Rav Shternbuch makes a bold assertion regarding the prohibition of Lifnei Iveir. He argues that this restriction applies only if one seeks to harm. However, he does not violate Lifnei Iveir if his intention is to help. Rav Shternbuch asserts that Lifnei Iveir is analogous to the prohibition to wound (Chavalah) in this regard, as it is permitted to “wound” for therapeutic purposes, such as a surgeon performing a needed operation.
Similarly, since one intends to help his parents by inviting them to Shabbat meal and thereby bring them closer to Torah observance and not spiritually harm them, he does not violate Lifnei Iveir. Rav Shternbuch notes that in the case he is addressing the parents were positively disposed to being drawn closer to Torah life and therefore the Shabbat meal invitations were indeed part of the process of supporting the parents returning to religious observance.
Although Rav Shternbuch does not cite support for his view, perhaps we can draw support for his approach from a suggestion made by Rav Akiva Eiger (commentary to Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 181:6). Some background information is needed to understand the ruling. A man is forbidden to shave his face with a razor (Makif) and is forbidden to be shaved by a razor (Nikaf), see Makkot 20b. A woman is not included in this prohibition (Mishnah Kiddushin 1:7), but violates Lifnei Iveir if she shaves a man’s face with a razor (Shulchan Aruch ad. loc.).
Rav Akiva Eiger suggests, though, that if a woman should shave a man with a razor if he was determined to shave with a razor and could not be persuaded to refrain from such activity (hospital nurses might be faced with this issue). He reasons that had the man shaved himself, he would violate two prohibitions, shaving and being shaved. If the woman shaves him, he violates only one prohibition, the prohibition to be shaved. Perhaps Rav Akiva Eiger’s suggestion supports Rav Shternbuch’s approach that one is not considered to be causing another to stumble if in the bigger picture he is helping that person. We should note, though, that some Poskim do not accept Rav Akiva Eiger’s approach (see Teshuvot Tzitz Eliezer 15:19) and that one can distinguish between Rav Shternbuch’s case and Rav Akiva Eiger’s case. Nonetheless, some support to Rav Shternbuch can be marshaled from this ruling as the rulings do share a similar attitude and approach.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach
We should note that Chazal already grappled with issues of relationships between fully observant and less observant Jews. Although Jews in the time of Chazal, generally speaking, were observant of most Torah laws, there were some Jews who were lax in their observance of some exceedingly challenging laws, such as Shmittah observance (refraining from working the land in the seventh year).
The Mishnah (Shevi’it 5:6) teaches that one can sell certain agricultural implements to such a semi-observant Jew during Shemittah, but certain implements are forbidden to be sold. Plowing implements, for example, are forbidden to be sold to such Jews during the seventh year as these items will clearly be used for violation of Torah law, as all plowing is forbidden during Shemittah. Harvesting equipment, on the other hand, is permitted to be sold since certain harvesting is permitted during the Shemittah year (see the article on this topic archived at www.koltorah.org). The principle is that if the item is expected to be used only for forbidden activity then selling it violates Lifnei Iveir, but if the item is expected to be used for either forbidden or permitted activity one does not violate Lifnei Iveir, as one is not facilitating the violation of a sin in such a case since the item will not necessarily be used for a forbidden use.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach applies this principle in a letter addressed to Yeshivat Ohr Sameach, a well-known outreach Yeshiva, regarding extending Shabbat and Yom Tov invitations to homes and beginner services in Shuls. Rav Auerbach rules that one may invite a non-observant Jew on Shabbat or Yom Tov if he offers him a place to sleep over. In such a case, one does not violate Lifnei Iveir since the invitation does not necessarily facilitate the violation of Shabbat or Yom Tov. By framing the invitation in this manner the situation is analogous to the Mishnah’s case of selling harvesting equipment to a semi-observant Jew.
Rav Yehudah Amital (personal communication) rules in accordance with Rav Shlomo Zalman’s approach and Rav Yosef Adler reports that Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik also espoused this approach. For further discussion of Rav Shlomo Zalman’s ruling and our entire issue, see Rav J.David Bleich (Contemporary Halachic Problems 4:92-104).
Our Poskim grapple with this dilemma as do many families. Rav Shlomo Zalman’s approach is adopted in practice by many families, outreach organizations and shuls. However, one must consider the impact of non-observant relatives driving to or from one’s home on Shabbat and/or Yom Tov on his children. Children must be explained that although they love the relative who visits, we are deeply troubled and saddened by their violation of Shabbat and/or Yom Tov.
Some families have dealt with this quandary by limiting their invitations to their non-observant relatives to Chanukah, Purim or Chol Hamoed to eat in the Sukkah. Others will extend the invitation only if the driving will occur on Yom Tov but not Shabbat, since violation of Shabbat is a capital sin and violation of Yom Tov is not. Others will extend the invitation if the guest will violate Shabbat or Yom Tov in only one of his trips (i.e. the guest either arrives before Shabbat and/or Yom Tov or leaves after Shabbat and/or Yom Tov ends). In any event one must carefully weigh one’s options and seek the guidance of one’s Rav in resolving this difficult challenge.